His Harryship rose before dawn, and all ran hither and yon to do his bidding.
He goes to join Mr Secretary [Sir Robert Cecil] on ambassage to the King of France. They fear the King means to friend Spain, which will leave us and our Dutch allies in more danger than we are now.
All I can say is, Queen Puss should have sent the French King the aid he sought before he tired of fighting the Spanish.
What will Mr Secretary get for his pains? Wet fur and no fish. (As my mother would have sayt.)
His Harryship’s chamber was in disarray. The kitchen cat and I made a good breakfast from his leavings. Then I found paper, dipped his pen, and writ:
Touch not the basket of my Cat, nor the papers therein. Burn this when you have read it.
I cannot write as well as a secretarie doth, but I would be a very poor skoller if I could not write as well as an Earl can.
Then I stepped out to where his horses waited, snorting and stamping. They’ll not be so hawtie after being ridden through mire.
Our Earl was standing apart. He was talking to a gardener.
“Most willingly, your lordship,” sayt the fellow, cap in hand, though he’d scarce enough hair to keep his brain warm. “I’ll call my son. He’ll count it an honour.” And added in haste, lest he be thought insolent, “Our childern loved that Gib. Specially our poor Puss [Bess].”
A strange thing happened. A drop of water came from the gardener’s eye and left a glistering trail upon his cheek. He begged forgiveness, saying, “She’s in Heaven now.”
Our Earl placed a hand upon his shoulder. “I well recall your daughter,” sayt he in his softest voice. And how he praised her! The pretty curtsey she had made him, her fair speech, her sweet smile.
Yes, your Harryship, thought I. Now I know why many love you. But when your bum’s in the saddle and the world lies before you, will you spare a thought for my uncle or your gardener’s daughter?
Perchance I wrong him.
The horses moved off slow. I walked a way behind them.
All saw a boy and girl come by with a small cart. We heard the gardener call, “Do nowt blasphemious, mind.”
One of our Earl’s gentlemen sayt, “A funeral? For a cat?”
His Harryship replied, “I told the gardener to bury him. How his children go about it matters not to me.” Then he added, “But the first lesson that cat taught me was worth the learning. I took him up, and he shat on me.”
A lesson in warefulness? I doubt he’s learnt it.
I went to find Linkin and Nero. They told me a cat from our stable had been by, inviting all to farewell my uncle at our Field on the morrow.
Nero had offered a song in his honour.
“What have you in mind?” I arrkst. (I’ve not forgot how he contrived to insult me in the verse he made upon my late mother.)
“An excellent song,” sayt he. “I heared it at our Earl’s house one summer eve as I sat ’neath a window. Come again sweet love etcetera.”
“That’s a lewd song about a wicked woman,” sayt Linkin.
“True,” sayt Nero. “She hoist her tail for a gentleman, and then disdained him. He was much aggrieved to learn there’d be no more scruffing.”
“She brake his heart,” sayt Linkin. “And made mock of his misery.”
“One fool deserves another,” sayt I.
Nero sayt, “I’ll amend the words.”
I feared the worst.
But what a throng of cats came to our assembly!
Most could not believe my uncle was gone from this world. He was with us for so long he seemed immortal.
“He was not of an age,” sayt one, “but for all time.”
Then Nero rose up. He sang:
Come again, all cats do now invite
Friend Gib, who came so oft to bring us true delight.
To sit, to hear, to whurr, to sing, to sigh
with him again in sweetest sympathy.
Come again, that we may cease to mourn
because he did depart, and leave us all forlorn.
We wait, we weep, we wail, we waul, we cry
to ease our grief in feline harmony.
Poor verse. But all gave Nero great applauds.
Some cats (readie to woo us queens, and fire-hot to show theirselves) joined with him to sing the song again.
Brats began to yowl in the cottages nearby. One dog barked, then another.
“Once more!” cried Nero. And all gave voice.
How we sang! Even the youngest cats let out a waul or two, though they could scarce have known my uncle. Nor heard his tales, save from mothers wishing to affright them with monsters and wicked witches.
A cottage door oped, and a woman came at us with a broom. We fled away like shadows.
A fit end to my uncle’s funeral.
Gib’s niece (who would have written this in February 1598) might not have liked Nero’s verse, but at least Gib had a poetick send-off. Unlike William Shakespeare, whose death in 1616 seems to have gone unremarked by his fellow poets. Perhaps he should have remembered one or two of them in his will?
I hate to think what the “feline harmony” sounded like, but there are many modern renditions of John Dowland’s melancholy song that’s usually referred to as Come Again. My favourites are by counter tenor/alto Daniel Taylor, and by tenor William Ferguson.
The Earl of Southampton had Queen Elizabeth’s permission to remain overseas for two years, and take with him 10 servants, 6 horses, and £200. He also purchased a letter of credit for 1,000 crowns, payable to him in Rouen (Akrigg, p.69).
He must have been delighted to be on the move. But he did take a fond farewell of Elizabeth Vernon shortly before he sailed.